The Hidden Power of the Early Voter in Election 2012
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By Josh Boak,
The Fiscal Times
October 25, 2012

President Obama has pinned his reelection hopes on early voters, a group that’s not necessarily captured by recent polls showing that momentum has shifted to Republican Mitt Romney.

Voters in critical swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio and North Carolina are already casting ballots by mail or in-person—and more than 30 percent of the country are projected to have voted before election day on Nov. 6. Even though the election often seems to be about political messaging, it ultimately depends on campaign logistics.

The Obama team argues that the additional days will help them increase Democratic turnout. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters on a Tuesday conference call that they’re outperforming “our early-vote margins in key states compared to 2008.”

“What early vote does is help us get out our low propensity voters -- voters called sporadic voters -- which broadens our universe and frees up more ‘get out the vote’ resources later, especially on election day,” Messina said. “Our numbers and public numbers are showing that more Obama sporadic voters are voting than Romney sporadic voters, which is a very big piece of business for the total turnout.”

Republicans counter—predictably—that the numbers look better for them.

“In most cases, the data show Republicans making up a larger share of early voters this year than they did four years ago,” Rob Wile, political director for the Republican National Committee, wrote in a memo released yesterday. “Democrats make up a smaller share, giving Republicans an important advantage.”


But it’s not quite that simple, since early voting is different among states and changes as the election approaches. First of all, academic analysis drawing of the past two presidential elections reveals that early voting decreased turnout.

The extended time to vote removes the urgency attached to Nov. 6, in the same way a grocery store shopper can be rendered indecisive by choosing among a hundred different boxes of cereal, said Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who conducted the research based on Census Bureau and county records. “It saps the power of an election day to get people to the polls,” Burden said. “Especially if it’s done by mail and there is no face-to-face interaction, you lose the punch of a traditional election day.”

The type of early voting is also critical, since Republicans generally perform better with mail-in ballots while in-person voting tends to benefit Democrats.